Using What You Have: Jason Donald at 1B

Can JD play 1B?

As we talked through the other day, the Indians are reportedly in the market for some right-handed hitting, especially some that can play at either 1B or a corner OF slot. Bastian raised the possibility that Jason Donald could play that role in the outfield, at least part time, and that makes sense. Donald's bats from the right side, and his career line against left-handed pitching is .328/.405/.481; in limited action last season, that line was .377/.424/.525. Donald's benefited from an elevated BAbip against LHP in his career and he's only got 131 career major league ABs in that split, and his minor league line doesn't show a player who's always devoured lefties. At the same time, Donald's been a capable offensive player pretty much his entire minor league career, and Occam's razor says we can assume he's going to hit LHP better than RHP if he's able to stay healthy in the majors.

At the same time, Matt LaPorta, a left-handed right-handed batter, has struggled, to say the least, in becoming a major league first baseman. There's not much to like about his major league line, and his numbers against RHP aren't exactly terrific: .246/.304/.421. Still, compare that to his line against LHP: .211/.303/.326.

I think Donald should be getting regular at-bats against LHP next season (and more, if they can be found), and LaPorta probably should not face LHP. There are a number of moving parts here: Shelley Duncan is a RHB who has, at times, hit LHP pretty well; LaPorta and Donald have the profiles outlined above; Carlos Santana needs to play every day, but likely needs to see time at 1B to keep fresh; Lou Marson has hit miserably against RHP, less so versus LHP.

The idea of playing Donald in the outfield is likely born out of keeping 1B open for Santana against RHP. It's going to be interesting to see if Donald also sees some time at 1B, this season. The key question might actually be who is better in the outfield, Duncan or Donald? Imagine the Indians are facing a LHP, Santana won't be catching, and Hafner is hurt (hard to imagine, right?). Which of these alignments do you prefer?

DH: Santana

1B: Duncan

LF: Donald

or

DH: Duncan

1B: Santana

LF: Donald

or

DH: Donald

1B: Santana

LF: Duncan

or

DH: Santana

1B: Donald

LF: Carrera/Sizemore/Brantley etc

or

DH: Santana

1B: Duncan

LF: Carrera/Sizemore/Brantley etc

I'll admit this isn't exactly a fascinating exercise, and it's complicated by Brantley, Carrera, and any additional OF signings, as well as how many ABs they try to find for Hannahan (assuming he returns). I just thought I'd throw this question out there because I can't shake a trio of feelings:

1: I'd rather play Donald than Duncan in 2012, pretty much whenever possible. Donald has a lot greater potential value and I think he might be a better hitter anyway.

2: Duncan's not great in the outfield, but he's played out there his whole life. I don't have a lot of confidence that Donald's going to be better out there than Duncan, and certainly he's not going to be better than one of the actual outfielders.

3: I'm confident Donald, even though he's never been there, would probably be as good as any of the first basemen, right away. He's been a well regarded infielder his entire career.

4: Kipnis and Cabrera should play as close to every day as possible.

For me, I'd rather see Donald logging time at 1B while Santana DH's and either an actual outfielder or Duncan patrols the corner. That strikes me as the best combination of hitting and fielding. I'm not enthralled by the idea of watching Donald stumble around out there and I suspect he could play 1B better than Santana right away. This isn't a great line of thinking for Duncan, who's going to struggle to find time if the Indians follow this line of thinking and find an extra body for the outfield (Fukudome?).

I'm likely missing some obvious issues here—let me know what they are.

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